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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Red Wings' Datsyuk key to the offense

DETROIT - Six months ago, Pavel Datsyuk had Hockeytown in a huff.

The silky-smooth playmaker wasn't sure he wanted to return to the Detroit Red Wings.

Datsyuk was involved in a bizarre soap opera that had more twists and turns than an episode of General Hospital.

Two teams in his native Russia were fighting for his services.

Datsyuk originally signed a one-year, $6 million contract to play this season for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superleague. However, that offer was matched by Moscow Dynamo, the team Datsyuk played for during the NHL lockout last year.

The tug-of-war was headed for arbitration in September when Datsyuk did an about-face, bolted Russia, and signed a two-year, $7.8 million deal with Detroit.

Rookie coach Mike Babcock and the now first-place Red Wings were delighted with Datsyuk's decision.

"Pavel definitely makes me a better coach," Babcock said.

Datsyuk is the difference-maker on a team with fewer stars and a scaled-down salary cap of $39 million.

Datsyuk's offensive skills are dazzling.

The 27-year-old center is a wizard with the puck.

He is shooting more.

He is winning face-offs.

He is not intimidated by anyone.

Datsyuk also is Detroit's leading scorer. He has 62 points after last night's 6-0 victory over the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena.

"I'm glad to be back in Detroit," said Datsyuk, who still struggles with his English. "I'm happy. I want to play here a long time."

Datsyuk, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, was a long shot to make the NHL.

The Red Wings selected him in the sixth round - 171st pick overall - in the 1998 NHL draft. European scout Hakan Andersson believed Datsyuk could be the Red Wings' next Russian star, following in the footsteps of Igor Larionov and Sergei Fedorov.

Datsyuk first broke into the league in 2001-02. He scored 35 points on a Stanley Cup championship team that was loaded with high-priced talent and future Hall of Famers - Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Larionov and Fedorov.

Datsyuk's production increased to 51 points the following year. But after Fedorov fled to Anaheim as a free agent in the summer of 2003, Datsyuk became the focal point of the Red Wings' offense.

He had a breakthrough season in 2003-04, tying for the team lead with 30 goals and totaling 68 points en route to making his first All-Star appearance.

Datsyuk is not nearly as well-rounded a player as Fedorov, who had a blistering slapshot, superb skating ability and an ex-wife named Anna Kournikova.

Fedorov, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, was a six-time All-Star in Detroit, tallying 400 goals and 554 assists in 13 seasons. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 1994 and twice was named the league's best defensive forward.

He also captured three Stanley Cup rings and had more playoff points (113) and assists (163) than anyone in the NHL during his time in the Motor City.

While Fedorov excelled in the postseason, Datsyuk has been lackluster.

He didn't score a goal in the playoffs in either 2003 or 2004. In 37 career games, he has been held to just three goals and nine assists.

Datsyuk needs to pump in some goals in the playoffs this year, or the Red Wings won't go very far.



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